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Small Business Grant Program and Loan Opportunities

Author: Denise Beeson
May, 2010 Issue


I’m frequently asked about the “free” money to start or grow a business, or how to “cash in” under President Obama’s stimulus plan. The truth is, the government doesn’t have any “free” money to lend—now or ever—but there are government programs and opportunities for companies willing to seek out information and strategically target options. So let’s concentrate on how you can participate in government lending and funding.
 

Grants

There’s a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding about types of grants. A federal grant is defined as a monetary award to a recipient to carry out some work for a charitable public purpose. They’re usually awarded to state, county and nonprofit agencies under the 501C3 tax-exempt organization status under the IRS tax code—not to individuals or small businesses. Awards are based on the “best solution” as determined by a federal team representing the government agency. There are several types of grants under this definition:
 
Project grants for research, especially in the medical area;

Categorical grants usually require matching funds or “in kind” contributions to the amount funded;

Block grants are similar to categorical grants but have a broader use; and
Earmark grants aren’t placed out for bid, but rather receive congressional appropriation through the congressional budget.
 

Small Business Administration (SBA)

Today, America’s 25 million small businesses employ more than 50 percent of the private workforce, generate more than half the nation’s gross domestic product and are the principal source of new jobs. When the SBA was established in 1953, its mission was—and still is—to provide financial, technical and management assistance to help Americans start, run and grow their businesses. Partially funded SBA outreach offices in the North Bay include the local Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE; www.scorenorthcoastca.org) and the Small Business Development Center (www.santarosa.edu/sbdc), both of which offer free consulting services and business education classes to small businesses.
 

SBA loan programs

SBA is considered the nation’s largest single financial backer of small businesses, with a portfolio of direct and guaranteed business and disaster loans worth more than $59 billion. Last year, SBA and its resource partners offered management and technical assistance to more than 2.6 million clients. SBA also plays a major role in the government’s disaster relief efforts by making low-interest recovery loans to both homeowners and businesses.

There are more than 250 federal loan programs available for qualified small businesses. Loans are monies to be paid back and are underwritten, funded and monitored by participating banks or special entities set up by the federal government. The SBA doesn’t lend directly to the borrower in most cases. Under the 2009 stimulus plan, most SBA fees have been waived to the borrower, and the loan guarantee to the lending bank has been raised from 75 percent to 90 percent. It’s up to Congress to continue the benefits of the stimulus plan, since funds are rapidly dwindling. Visit www.sba.gov for complete information about these loan programs and services.
 
SBA-SBIR. The SBA does have an exception to the “no federal grants” rule for small businesses, but it’s targeted to innovation research and high technology companies. The Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) funds the startup and commercial development stages of an innovative technology, product or service (http://fbo.gov). For more information, see www.sba.gov/SBIR.
 
SBA-STTR. The Small Business Technology Transfer Program (STTR) funds awards to small businesses that partner with nonprofit research institutions for the commercialization of technology products. This program operates like the SBIR program, however, fewer agencies participate, and commercialization of the technology is a requirement. Each year, the Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Health and Human Services (DOHHS), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and National Science Foundation (NSF) are required by STTR to reserve a portion of their research and development funds for small business/nonprofit research institution partnerships.
 

Government procurement

Federal, state and local governments offer small businesses the opportunity to sell products and services to them based on their unique procurement needs. It’s up to the small business to seek out—via the governing body’s website, small business procurement office or formulary bid list—the avenues by which these government entities purchase. Each is different, but you can find some overlapping systems.

A small business can also use the Commerce Business Daily (CBD; http://cdbnet.gpo.gov) in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) as the single point of information about Federal Acquisition Regulations, general government information and as the portal to online public access to government-wide procurement and proposal announcements. The United States government and NATO allied nations advertise their research and development needs as well as procurement needs that exceed $25,000 at the Federal Business Opportunities’ website (http://fbo.gov). Small businesses that wish to sell their products or services to the government can easily track the government and its allies’ needs online.
 

Research and development services

Specialized research and development services are also advertised from the major departments and agencies—such as DOD, DOE, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and National Institutes of Health (NIH)—that need technology solutions based on program-specific goals at http://fbo.gov. Often, technology-based small businesses have a difficult time applying and winning these awards. However, building relationships within agencies interested in a company’s technology may lead to a proposal.

Many departments and agencies have an annual “roadmap” review highlighting their program needs. During these sessions, small, technology-based companies can meet other companies and team with them in response to an announcement. Some program coordinators form teams to arrive at the best solutions, which can provide an opportunity to work with a large company to highlight your technical expertise. Some small companies frown on this avenue, because it’s possible to be teamed with a competitor and/or compromise intellectual property.
 

Federal commodity purchasing

There’s a formal process to sell to the government. First, you work with the General Services Administration (GSA) to negotiate price and delivery; and then a GSA number is provided to each distinct product or service that you have been approved to sell at those prices. There are currently more than 11 billion different supplies and services on the list, each of which can be purchased by a contracting officer anywhere in the world via government credit card. This system is for “off the shelf” products or services (sometimes referred to as “commodities”) from companies that demonstrate they can provide consistent, quality goods in the needed quantities forecast by the government. Once approved, any institution, agency, university, nonprofit or legal entity taking in federal dollars can use the preapproved GSA Advantage system to buy what it needs. It’s important to know your prices are available for viewing by GSA buyers as well as your competitors. See the General Administration Services website at www.gsa.gov for more details.
 

State and local procurement

Each state has its own system that may or may not interface with the federal system. However, in most states, entities that receive federal dollars can buy through the GSA Advantage system or locally—or both—depending on their quality, quantity and delivery requirements. Local jurisdictions such as cities and counties also have their own procurement systems. Many items are on a “formulary” that can go out to bid annually. There may also be an “approved” vendor list. Research and development funding or small business funding is not available through cities or counties as a rule, but most cities and counties offer small business startup kits that provide procurement and general information about local resources and permits that may be needed.
 

Good luck

This article has described the basics of small business grant programs, loan opportunities and government procurement. Hopefully, it also dispelled ideas about “free” money. Small businesses must carefully weigh all the opportunities in today’s marketplace so their time and money is carefully balanced to provide the best avenues for future growth and revenue.
 
Denise Beeson is a commercial loan officer specializing in SBA loans with Bay Sierra Financial in Santa Rosa. She’s also an adjunct faculty member at Santa Rosa Junior College in the marketing and small business management departments. See www.denisebeeson.com for more information.


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